Foolish Former Me: Yeahhhhh, I don’t do short stories ’cause I’m all about novels and shorts make me think of college writing classes and kinda make me break out in hives and besides I’m totally bad at them—
Judith: okay but how ’bout we all do this antho
FFM: *scribbles furiously*
This is the Power of Judith—and by extension, the power of her new publishing company. When I heard she’d picked the name Open Ink Press, I thought hell yeah, that’s perfect. Perfect in a big-picture way, because I know this press will be wide open to diverse stories, authors, ideas, and expressions of romance, and I absolutely can’t wait to see how it evolves. But it’s also perfect on a personal level, because in the five months since we did our first anthology, this new venture has opened doors I thought were shut—and doors I never thought existed because they were covered with grime and vines and sticky cobwebs of self-doubt.
Because of Open Ink, I stopped thinking of myself as one kind of writer. I opened myself to storytelling in a form outside my comfort zone, something I never would have tried without external motivation. Five months later I’ve finished two shorts I love, and I can’t overemphasize the value of a buddy who’ll lovingly cattle-prod you into trying new things. (Idea: a Tinder for writers in search of prodders. LET’S MAKE IT HAPPEN.)
Because of Open Ink, I said yes not once but twice to the kind of deadlines that would normally make me bash through walls leaving a me-shaped hole behind. I learned that words, while precious, don’t necessarily need to marinate for agonizing stretches of time before they’re ready for public consumption. I learned to take more chances, to draft like a mofo (even if it sucks at first), to get out of my head and pull words from my heart.
Because of Open Ink, I rethought my vow to never plan a series. For years I’ve had this dream of creating and sustaining a world across several books, but it always seemed way too daunting…until now. Next year, I’m planning to use the characters in my Follow Me Into Darkness story, “If We Be Friends,” to launch a series called The Elsinore Episodes. It’s about a bunch of actors filming a show about Hamlet’s teen years, and I’m thinking each book will be a series of interlocking stories about behind-the-scenes dramas, friendships, family situations, and queer and straight romances. Taking part in these anthologies made me believe a plan like this was possible to execute, and hopefully I’ll have the balls to prove myself right.
Because of Open Ink, I started saying yes to other things, too. When a friend asked if I’d teach a small writing class for teens at the local library, my introvert self did a brief full-body shudder, and then I said yep, sign me up. When my daughter wanted to learn to machine-sew and play guitar, I excavated both things from the attic and retaught myself bobbin-winding and B chords. And when I wondered if I, at my advancing age, could pull off a skull-printed tunic and a beanie simultaneously, I answered myself with HELL YEAH.
In the years to come, I know many, many authors will have their own “because of Open Ink” stories. This press will elevate so many voices that need to be heard, and I’m incredibly honored that I got to be a small part of it from the beginning. To Open Ink authors present and future: Here’s to many more years of trying new things—and telling new stories—together.
J.C. Lillis writes contemporary YA novels about fandom, friendship, love, and art. Her Mardi Gras story was inspired by crazy days and nights in her college theater, where part of her heart still beats under the floorboards. She lives in Baltimore with her patient family and a cat who intends to eat her someday.